When the final award for Record Of The Year was presented to “Wind Beneath My Wings,” Bette Midler charmingly summed up this whole 32nd Annual GRAMMY night by gleefully proclaiming, “Hey Bonnie Raitt, I got one too!”
Coming fittingly just in the nick of time, veteran rootsy singer and guitar-slinger Raitt thoroughly enjoyed an altogether satisfying GRAMMY night — winning Album Of The Year for her Nick Of Time comeback, along with Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Traditional Blues Recording for a duet with John Lee Hooker (“I’m In The Mood,” on Hooker’s The Healer). Having famously bounced back from substance abuse problems and having been dropped by her former label, Raitt won her first four GRAMMYs ever in just a matter of hours — a global media event that would subsequently help make the Don Was-produced Nick Of Time an even bigger hit. For her part, Raitt — who performed “Thing Called Love” on the show — was increasingly shocked as her awards piled up. “This is a real miracle for me after all this time,” she said. Raitt graciously thanked her peers for nominating her in previous years “when things weren’t going so well.” Alluding gracefully to her past troubles, she also noted, “And mostly I’d like to thank God for bringing me to this at a time when I could truly appreciate it.”
The other moving centerpiece of this first GRAMMY show held in the ’90s — wonderfully hosted by Garry Shandling — was a suitably grand and heartfelt salute to one of the night’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipients, Paul McCartney.
Speaking lovingly for her boomer generation, Meryl Streep presented the tribute, first recalling her own experience seeing the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965 from the 116th row with an “I Love You Forever Paul” sign in her hands. “I had a better view of New Jersey than I did of the little stage that was set up on centerfield,” she said with a smile. Still, Streep beautifully recalled seeing “those four boys running across the grass to the stage” and “the roar that just rose up.” Streep then introduced two of McCartney’s own favorites to perform two of his songs. Ray Charles served up the funkiest version ever of “Eleanor Rigby,” while Stevie Wonder offered up a believably optimistic version of “We Can Work It Out.”
Following one of the more extended standing ovations in all of GRAMMY history, McCartney took the stage, kissed Streep, adding, “Thank you Meryl, I remember you well — row 116.” McCartney then spoke eloquently of his love for the music of Charles and Wonder, of environmental challenges the world faced, of his family, and of his pleasure in joining “the best band in the world — thanks John, George and Ringo for being beautiful people.” McCartney concluded memorably, “I’d like to thank you all for being in my dream.”
Yet on an evening where the sublime dominated splendidly, there was one unfortunate yet notable touch of the ridiculous when soon-to-be-exposed lip synchers Milli Vanilli were presented with the GRAMMY for Best New Artist. The award was officially withdrawn later in 1990 when it was confirmed by producer Frank Farian that on the supposed duo’s debut album All Or Nothing, “frontmen” Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus had actually sang not all but nothing. The pair did however dance energetically and manage to at least partially mouth the lyrics to their smash “Girl You Know It’s True” during the show (about which Shandling explained, “I was supposed to be in that number. I wouldn’t wear the extensions.”).
The 32nd Annual GRAMMY Awards was also historic for featuring the first-ever televised rap award (the category had been established the year prior). First, during a performance of “I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Will Smith dedicated the group’s performance “to all the rappers last year that stood with us and helped us to earn the right to be on this stage tonight.” Then teen dreams New Kids On The Block presented the award, with the group’s Donnie Wahlberg respectfully name-checking hip-hop pioneers Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Run-D.M.C. and Kurtis Blow, before handing out the award for Best Rap Performance to Young MC for “Bust A Move.” Adding a little hip-hop edge to the proceedings, Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav proceeded to join Young MC onstage uninvited. “I’d like to thank Flavor Flav for breaking up the monotony of my acceptance speech,” Young MC noted.
The night featured many other musical highlights, including a performance by Lifetime Achievement recipient Miles Davis, a short impromptu version of “Straighten Up And Fly Right” by Ella Fitzgerald and Natalie Cole on a night when the late Nat “King” Cole was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and a haunting rendition of “Summertime” from Porgy And Bess by Metropolitan Opera star Harolyn Blackwell.
The 32nd Annual GRAMMYs also included perhaps the single finest dirty joke inspired by a format change in all of music history. As Shandling memorably explained, “Compact discs are overtaking the business, of course, which is ruining my life because I make love to music and I cannot find 45s anymore.”